Feature photo courtesy of Maryland athletics.
In the double-edged world of upper-level athletics, wins and losses dictate moods. Some take no enjoyment in the positives of a game if they don’t add up to a win.
Maryland coach DJ Durkin doesn’t want his team’s weekly morale at the mercy of their Saturdays. The philosophy for Durkin is simple: If the team won, that’s great. Move on to next week. If they lost, forget about it. Move on to next week.
To help ease the sting of Saturday’s 31-10 loss to Minnesota, Durkin recognized the game’s top performers in a team meeting. One of the players he praised was wide receiver Levern Jacobs.
Jacobs caught a career-high 10 passes for 82 yards, the first time a Terrapin recorded double-digit catches since Stefon Diggs in 2014.
“It’s nothing really to celebrate,” Jacobs said of his accomplishment. “There’s nothing really good to take away from the game.”
While not happy about the loss surrounding his performance, the senior did concede he would like to build on the game and improve. His 10 receptions leapfrogged Jacobs past five men on Maryland’s all-time list, including teammate Trey Edmunds’ father Ferrell. He’s now tied for 11th in Terrapins history with 102 catches.
The outburst came as somewhat of a surprise. Though he led the team in receptions and yards in 2013 and 2015, he only grabbed three passes for 20 yards through Maryland’s first five games.
Jacobs is still focused on what he needs to fix, even though he forayed into the spotlight Saturday.
“I’m kind of tough on myself when I watch film,” Jacobs said. “There’s a lot of mental errors that I had in the game and things that I need to correct. And even if [Durkin] doesn’t want to be tough on me, I’m still gonna be tough on myself. There’s a lot of things that I need to correct during the game and things that I need to do better for the Michigan State game.”
Jacobs’ complaints were not with his play as a receiver, but with his blocking downfield. The coaching staff emphasized since they arrived how important it is for each team member to earn his playing time. For wide receivers, that meant learning to love blocking.
That’s something Durkin and the staff personally challenged Jacobs to do, the coach said. They saw his talent on tape, but didn’t think he tried hard enough consistently.
Urgency is a foundation of Durkin’s program, and he needed everyone to buy in. He picked on Jacobs from time to time in camp, but the Temple Hills, Maryland, native never felt discouraged or singled out.
“My mom always told me when a person stops talking to you, that’s when you need to be worried,” Jacobs said. “Him getting on me is just making me a better player.”
He fought through the scrutiny and the blocking drills against the team’s defensive backs. The strength of his practice opponents makes the transition to in-game blocking relatively easy, Jacobs said.
Despite the lack of balls thrown his way, Jacobs has certainly improved, even though the stat sheet might not say so. He bought into Durkin’s philosophy.
“It’s kind of fun when you see the play progress, like when you’re blocking downfield and you see the big runs that our running backs have like Ty [Johnson], Wes [Brown], those guys,” Jacobs said. “It’s kind of fun seeing them excited when you’re making a big block. It’s just as fun, and it might be a little bit more fun blocking than it is catching a ball.”
Jacobs has not had more fun blocking than when he sprung Johnson for a 66-yard touchdown on a screen pass against Penn State, he said. While Johnson caught the ball, Jacobs threw cornerback Grant Haley out of bounds and sealed off the right sideline for his running back. As Johnson raced down the field, Jacobs sprinted right behind, chasing to greet him in the end zone.
Blocking provides an energetic release for Jacobs that catching doesn’t, he said.
“You don’t see too much excitement out of me making a catch because I think that’s what I need to do,” Jacobs said. “That’s my job. My job is to make the catch. And I think some of the things that people don’t understand is your job is also to block, and that’s one of the harder things to do. And I just get excited when I do it now.”
Saturday flipped the script, with Tyrrell Pigrome sending 10 of his 18 completions Jacobs’ way. Jacobs spent more time working with Pigrome than any of the team’s quarterbacks in camp, and the comfort the freshman had with the receiver showed.
Just don’t expect Jacobs’ day in the limelight to disrupt his focus on blocking. It’s made him into a completely different player.
“You can see the confidence in him when he walks around,” Durkin said. “You know when you’re giving good effort, when you’re helping your teammates. When you’re doing the right thing, you know it, and you carry yourself a certain way. You also know it when you’re not. So he’s doing that for us right now, and we certainly need him to continue that.”
Edited by Austin Kleber.